Natural burials: an eco-friendly funeral option

Natural burial Epping Forest 2

Fancy being buried on a farm, in a forest, on a meadow or even perhaps in your own garden? A natural burial may just be what you are looking for. 

Read on if you would like to learn more about natural burials, what to consider when having one and how to have a ceremony that celebrates yours of someone else’s life in a eco-conscious and beautiful way.  

What is a natural burial?

If you are looking for an eco-conscious funeral option, a natural burial is your best choice. 

A natural burial aims at having minimum impact on the environment. A body is placed directly into the earth, allowing it to decompose naturally. The way the grave and the body are being prepared are contributing to this process.

At a natural burial, the grave is being dug by hand. This is different from a traditional funeral where machinery or other heavy equipment is being used. Bodies are not being embalmed and only biodegradable coffins or burial shrouds are used. Examples of coffin materials that are environmentally friendly are willow, bamboo, wool of banana leaf. 

Natural burial, woodland burial, eco-burial and green burial are often use interchangeably. Some cemeteries have a special section for natural burials, others are created with only this purpose in mind. Natural burial grounds support the ecology of the site. They are designed to preserve wildlife and the species that live within them. No pesticides are used and nature will take its natural course.

Natural burial sites look different from traditional cemeteries. You won’t see large headstones or decorated plots. Only simple headstones are allowed (often made out of wood) and some won’t have any markers at all. In that case, you’ll use a GPS to locate your loved one’s final resting place. 

Why choose a natural burial?

A natural burial is at the moment the most environmentally friendly option available.  It’s a beautiful choice if you or the person who has died want to minimise their ecological impact after death. Bodies are returned to nature in a dignified way. You have countless options to make the funeral special and meaningful.

Funeral services at a natural burial

Can you have a funeral service at natural burial? Yes, you can. Like any other funeral, you can have your own personalised ceremony. Some natural burial sites have a hall or another space where you can have a ceremony before you walk down to the graveside, others only offer graveside ceremonies. 

Some also offer yurt or teepees for a gathering after the burial. Alternatively, you can organise your own picnic on site after the ceremony.  

A natural burial at Epping Forest

Mark was a father to two young children, 3 and 5 years old. He suddenly died of a heart failure. His wife decided to have a natural burial for him at Epping Forest, a beautiful woodland area not far from their house in London. 

We had a ceremony in the hall on site where family and friends shared memories and tributes and his children blew bubbles to the coffin. We also read a story that their dad used to read to them when they went to bed. Instead of recorded music, a friend played a few songs that reminded of special moments in Mark’s life on his guitar. After the service we walked towards Mark’s burial plot, located under a large tree. People tossed rosemary into the grave (a herb that symbolises remembrance) and they all helped fill the grave.   

A natural burial for a baby 

Baby Olive was buried at a woodland site in an intimate ceremony. We gathered around a tree where her parents read poems and shared letters written to their daughter. After the ceremony they had a picnic next to Olive’s resting place. 

How to plan and organise a natural burial

If you would like to plan or organise a natural burial you can start by doing research online. The Natural Death Centre is a good starting point if you are based in the UK.

Natural burial grounds may look different from what you expect. For example, a meadow burial site will be overgrown by flowers and grasses in summer and may look bare in winter. Visit the burial site before you decide to get a feel for it and an understanding of their rules and options.

Instead of and in additional to doing your research online, you can start by talking to a family member or friend who has had the experience. Or perhaps you have had the experience yourself. What did they like, what would they have done differently? 

You can also talk to a funeral director or celebrant who are offering natural burial ground services. Please note that you don’t have to employ a funeral director to arrange a funeral. You can also do everything yourself. This is called a DIY or home funeral. The National Home Funeral Alliance provides helpful information about home funerals.  

Funeral reading for natural burial

There are many beautiful poems and readings about nature that may be fitting for a natural burial. 

Here’s one by 19th century romantic poet John Clare. 

All Nature Has A Feeling, by John Clare.

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal it its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.

Photographer credits: Poetic Endings

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